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Book Review: Away by Amy Bloom (3/5)

14 Feb

The page-a-day book themed calendar I had in 2013 has struck again! This calendar filled my Goodreads shelves when I fist started using the software and there are many on there to this day that I have yet to read. (Actually 6, I just checked.) It won me over saying only that it was set in the 1920s. It doesn’t take much prodding to get me to read if that’s the setting.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Away by Amy Bloom

Summary from Goodreads:

Panoramic in scope, Away is the epic and intimate story of young Lillian Leyb, a dangerous innocent, an accidental heroine. When her family is destroyed in a Russian pogrom, Lillian comes to America alone, determined to make her way in a new land. When word comes that her daughter, Sophie, might still be alive, Lillian embarks on an odyssey that takes her from the world of the Yiddish theater on New York’s Lower East Side, to Seattle’s Jazz District, and up to Alaska, along the fabled Telegraph Trail toward Siberia.

Lillian’s story was epic, to say the least. What started as a young immigrant trying to make a living in New York turned to the story of a mistress and from there to a murderer to a convict and finally to a frontierswoman. She endured the hardships of every place she went to an extent that bordered on unbelievable. Each part of her journey could have been a short story that, strung together, was Lillian’s journey from Russia to New York to Alaska.

I enjoyed the side characters in this story and I think Bloom knew she created some great ones. Lillian endures and while that’s admirable, she’s very fluid, adapting to what’s around her at the time. It’s the people she’s adapting to that make the story interesting. The Burstein men are hiding secrets left and right and Lillian becomes an accomplice. Gumdrop wants to redefine her life and sees Lillian as a kindred spirit though they are so different. John Bishop is quiet and introspective and his fierce loyalty has already caused him one heartbreak. Each of these characters (and others I haven’t mentioned) were very different from each other and from Lillian. They marked her journey to Alaska and are what made it memorable.

Gumdrop was a favorite of mine. She seemed very bland at first and desperate. But as she reveals her story to Lillian, talking about her mother and child, she becomes a much deeper character. I loved the scene with her, Lillian, and Snooky. It was dark but really showed Gumdrop’s strength and all Lillian would do for Sophie. I adored that Bloom gave us short stories about what happened to the strongest side characters after Lillian leaves their lives. Gumdrop has the best story, in my opinion, and lives out the dream she always wanted.

I related best to Lillian when she was living in New York. While she wanted to work, she was also forced to act the perfect wife which I think a lot of modern women can relate to. She felt cooped up in the apartment waiting for Meyer and she would get upset when he’d come later than expected. She wanted to be respected and valued and I’m sure every woman has wanted this from someone in their life, either a father, boss, friend, teacher or romantic partner. Unfortunately, we still live in a society where some men want women in traditional roles and more and more women are finding them unfulfilling.

Amy Bloom Image via the author's website

Amy Bloom
Image via the author’s website

I found Lillian’s walk to Dawson most intriguing and a bit unbelievable. Maybe I didn’t catch it, but how could she have survived with no shelter in the cold in that part of Canada? Were there cabins each a day’s walk from each other? They weren’t all mentioned, to be sure, but there had to have been something to keep her going. Her food was explained and with snow around, water wouldn’t have been an issue, it’s the shelter that gets me. Anyway, it was sill my favorite part of the book. Her determination is evident and so strong. Each step, she knows it’s to find Sophie that she continues and while she’s excited, she also seems scared and rightfully so. I saw how strong Lillian was in this part.

The ending was my least favorite part and I’m going to talk about it here so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want it spoiled. I thought Lillian gave up too easily. It wasn’t like her to give up. She was so determined and spent so much time trying to get to Siberia just to give up, especially when someone who wanted to help her showed up. I get that she had almost no chance of finding Sophie, but she was so sure it could happen. Maybe they were both better off with the way things turned out, but I think Lillian would have kept pushing forward.

The audiobook was narrated by Barbara Rosenblat and I thought she did an amazing job. She gave Lillian an appropriate accent and portrayed the numerous side characters in great ways. Her voice was good for a sweeping narrative of America and Canada which follows a Russian Jewish immigrant. That’s got to be a niche market.

Lillian is driven by love for her daughter. That’s a very powerful force. She comes to respect her late husband less and less which is sad, but her love for Sophie never wavers. The things she did to get to Sophie from letting men take advantage of her to murder to unimaginable physical pain are incredible. That love drove this novel.

Writer’s Takeaway: As a reader, I hate when characters are dropped and I’m left wondering what happened to them. I felt Bloom gave her side characters good closure without dwelling on them. Gumdrop or Chinky or the Bursteins are wrapped up nicely, with just enough information to keep my wandering mind at bay. I liked this technique a lot.

A good read but a bit unbelievable and a bit disappointing in the end. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Post:
Just my final thoughts on the ending of Amy Bloom’s ‘Away’ | The Northshore Book Club